Paradox theory and the paradoxes of Covid-19 - research interview

Paradox theory and the paradoxes of Covid-19 – research interview

Organisational Success Podcast

Paradox Theory has a lot to say about the situations people and organisations have found themselves in during the Covid pandemic.

The Covid-19 pandemic has presented society, individuals and organisations a range of serious problems and challenges. Many of these are paradoxes that often go unrecognised and undiagnosed. Further, understanding how to deal with the paradoxes that are inherent in just about every crisis is not common knowledge.

In this interview, David talks with a group of researchers who are part of a team of 42 researchers who recently published a series of 4 papers about paradox theory, the paradoxes that Covid has presented to the world and what the research suggests we learn from this situation.

The Researchers


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– Okay, welcome back. And today we’re talking with part of the team and this is fairly unusual actually of 42 researchers from a range of amazing institutions who have been involved in a collection of studies spread over four research articles that have been recently published in the Journal of Management Inquiry. Now, the papers looked at how society, organizations and people tend to deal with tensions and paradoxes but in particular, how people in organizations have been dealing with the tensions and paradoxes that are involved in the current COVID-19 pandemic. So welcome guys. Would you like to just quickly introduce yourselves who you are, what institutions you from first?

– Sure, I’ll start. So I’m Josh Keller and I’m associate professor at University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. As you can probably tell from my accent, I’m not originally from Australia, from States but I’ve been at UNSW for a few years and I’ve been studying paradoxes for well over a decade now, probably closer two now.

– Excellent, thanks Josh.

– Hello, I’m Camille Pradies. From my accent you hear that I’m from France. I’m from EDHEC Business School and I am an assistant professor.

– Great, and what’s your main area Camille?

– Oh yes, no, I’ve been studying paradoxes of course the topic of the articles for also more than a decade. Josh and I met at the very early conferences and so we’ve been paradox enthusiasts since then.

– I like that paradox enthusiasts. Most organizations hate them. Great, thank you. Simone?

– Hello, I’m Simone Carmine and I’m a postdoc researcher in the University of Padua in Italy. And I’m the youngest of this team because I just finished my PhD on Paradox and Sustainability. And now I’m still working on this topic for this postdoc that I just started.

– Congratulations on your postdoc by the way.

– Thank you.

– That’s a big thing. I’ll remember it well. Fantastic, thank you very much. So first off let’s just start with what, I’m intrigued actually 42 researchers across this range of institutions. So what brought the project about? How did such a big team from such a wide range of institutions become involved in this?

– So it started with a couple of points in time. Basically what happened was with several of us really felt that, boy, there were a lot of paradoxes happening right from the beginning of the COVID pandemic. And we were seeing it in the news. We were seeing in our own life as in the terms of what we were experiencing and also from what we were understanding happening to organizations. And so what we first did which a lot of people do is using the new power of Zoom and say let’s all just kind of meet together and talk about it. And then once we sort of met together and talked about it we felt, wow, we should be writing about this too. And we had seen a couple of models that where they got people together to try to address it but we didn’t really know exactly how we were gonna do that ourselves but we knew from that conversation that we had to try to get as many people together as possible. And we knew there were just so many issues to talk about that we thought we’d just go ahead and talk about all of them. And we were very very fortunate that we were able to meet with the JMI the Journal of Management Inquiry team and that they were very enthusiastic about it and we worked together with them to put this together so it was quite exciting, quite an endeavor.

– So were all the team known to each other before or was it a kind of serendipity thing? How did you all meet?

– So what happened is we reached out in a way we are a community of scholar. So we’ve signed up to a newsletter. And so there are a few scholars who know what’s happening in the paradox research community via Facebook, the newsletter and a few elements like that. So when we first decided to meet we basically send a note to the community saying that there will be a meeting on Zoom, actually multiple meetings because we were trying to accommodate people all across the globe because there were paradox across in Australia, in the US, in Europe and so if you wanted to meet together you had in a way to have two meeting or two overlapping meeting with a few people attending the two where other could only attend one because they had to sleep during the night. So that’s how it all started like potentially people joining for the meeting to discuss a little bit like we use the breakout rooms to discuss different topics. Each of us said like how they felt their research where they had been studying had been changed questioned by the pandemic and so we came up with a long list of like relevant idea topics on how we could actually give insight to others about what was happening with paradox theory and what was happening changed what paradox theory was telling us up until that point. And so that’s how it all started. So we all knew each other somewhat, perhaps they were closer people in some areas but we all like had heard of one another in most cases.

– And just to add one quite small point. One thing that’s special about our community is that because we are all interested in paradoxes but we’re interested in different organizational phenomena. So that’s how we were able to cover a lot of topics. So we had people that were much more focused on HR issues, micro issues, some much more strategic issues. So that helped quite a bit. The fact that we had some common threads but we were able to cover multiple multiple topics because we knew that there were people that can touch upon different topics.

– And I think that’s the beauty of paradox too for our audience so that no matter where you work, no matter in which industry you are, no matter which position in the organization you are in, your facing paradoxes. I mean, we’ll talk about it in like work life. It can be because you are a leader and you have to do both strategic and operational thinking. It can be about innovation but at the same time capitalizing on what you’ve been doing all the time. So there are paradox is everywhere and we hope that after this podcast like your audience will see them as much as we see them all the time so that’s basically the nice and beauty of it.

– Yes, I hope so too. What fascinates me actually about how you’ve gone about these is that the whole thing around degrees of separation, the power of networks and the emergence that’s occurred that’s kind of entwined in what you’re doing anyway which is part of the whole paradox thing but we’ll come back to this. Okay, so let’s just get going. So the collection starts out by looking at the kind of multitude of tension and paradoxes that are kind of inherent in society and the organizations and the things that people have experienced during the pandemic. Can you just give us an overview of what some of these are please?

– If I can also add something on the question before in my case was more serendipity case because I was one of the last that joined this community. And I was working with Wendy Smith, one of the pillars of this community. And he introduced me to the amazing coordination team of this work, Josh, Camille and Garima. And so the first step was to just to meet and decide, okay, how we can structure these work on part of the extended COVID-19 that as Josh said there are paradoxes arising everywhere. So what we decided was to get an idea of the work and the people that we want to involve in this work as much as we could to cover a lot of tension that were arising in this period as an example and so we decided to divide the work in three level. The societal level, the organizational level and the individual level and to try to understand the tension that at this level the people and organization in society were experiencing for example we have at this societal level the great tension between the economic and public health. For example the first task of the first article or we have had other societal potential like the tension between that everybody see between the rigor and expediency in science. So for example the rush to get vaccine or to get new medicine for the COVID or we have the organizational tension that company experience the global value chain for example for the global value chain disruption. The individual tension that Camille was just mentioning about the work-life balance so we try to cover all the different aspect not everything of course but as much as we can with our experience.

– Oops, sorry go on Josh.

– So I was gonna say that, I mean, one of the big challenges of doing this project were that we met at a certain point and we came up with some ideas but then things changed very quickly. And so we actually when talking with some of the contributors some new ideas came in the process. And so for example, we didn’t want to talk about Black Lives Matter initially but then it became so intertwined with what was happening in the pandemic with the US and sort of looking at the context together that it felt like it was very important to be able to talk about that as well. And that became something that we had to raise and then we noticed that that was because it was happening in multiple levels that there were multiple tensions involved in that particularly the fact that people wanted to protest but were concerns about the public health implications of protest. And so a lot of things were happening in that process. The technology part as well was evolving situation and new ideas came up when it came to what was going on because we didn’t realize until later what was happening with all of these attempts to use technology to improve the public health situation and the complexity around that. So there were a lot of moving parts throughout this period with the idea that we knew that we had a deadline in October because this is still an academic journal and they were very very fast for an academic journal. I mean, amazingly fast but it’s still not like the same thing as a newspaper or article to try to figure out what to do and to actually have some meaning behind what we’re saying beyond just stating what’s going on in the obvious what’s going on in the world. We actually talk about what does it actually mean for organizing, what does it mean to be a manager beyond just the pandemic required some deeper thinking as well while everything was happening so quickly so we had our own internal paradox for sure.

– Yes, yeah, without a doubt. And in fact that’s one of the things that have struck me across the papers is that firstly, you’ve been operating in a changing environment and a rapidly changing environment but also you’re dealing with trying to capture the multiple levels that you’re talking about society, organizations and individuals. But also these multiple contexts within each of those levels across the world. So macro context but also the micro context as you said things like BLM and stuff like that that’s going on in specific contexts and then added into that we’re in an evolving, a new technological space that’s moving fast as well. And that’s one of the things that struck me about the first paper that I read was like, well, it’s a lot of research is really historical. I know this, by the time he gets to publication after all of the reviews and everything else that it’s gone through and all of the research it’s years. But to be publishing something in the middle of an event is quite unique and I applaud what you’ve done and also what the journal’s done as well. Brilliant. So can you just give us an overview of what some of the tensions are at each of these levels, just as examples?

– Sure, why don’t we each talk about one of them? Would that hurt Simone and Camille, like I’ll start with the societal level one and then I guess we can talk about each of them. So what’s interesting about the societal level because we’re organizational scholars, of course, we’re not political scientists so there was a little bit of discomfort about to what extent we wanna address it but we really just felt we saw paradoxes everywhere so we really wanted to do that. So what were some of the tensions we felt? So one of the ones was about the big core one that was the front of everybody’s mind was about this tension between public health and economic concerns happening and this certainly resonated across societies. Another one was about sustainability and the idea of with COVID striking putting the whole world to a halt which in some respect kept the environmental footprint lower but then kept everyone’s attention away from the environment. Keep in mind I was in Australia and we just had the worst environmental catastrophe in decades which is bush fires throughout the whole country and people had completely forgotten about it during the pandemic so that became I think a real big issue in terms of tensions around how do we address short-term versus long-term social issues. So that was one and then what else? Oh yeah, then about the science itself and the idea about how to be rigorous and relevant at the same time. On top of that we also talked not so much about what the tensions were but about how can we make comparisons about how people respond to the tension and using the political leaders helped us address some of that with the idea that we can perhaps show some insight into what happens within organizations. And so it’s not a coincidence that, I mean, it was very clear that East Asia had a very very different response than the Western world. So partially what we try to do is explain that at the societal level. And then also very interesting were differences in terms of genders that the New Zealand being a case of somebody who had showed tremendous leadership the prime minister there. And so we wanted to look to see does gender play a role in this as well? So some of it is also about responses to tensions at the societal level as well. I think that does that cover the societal once in a nutshell or there’s anyone that I think I mentioned and I think the BLM issue as well like other issues that happened at the same time.

– Yes, we’ll come back to that. That’s great, thanks Josh, first take.

– And to add on the organization level tension that we try to cover of course organization level have been heated by the pandemic in many different ways. So what for example we try to understand was the problem between the tension between the conflict between the long and the short-term perspective because in a time of totally uncertainty as the COVID pandemic how you can try to balance the short and the long-term perspective if the long-term is totally unclear it’s difficult totally to predict what is going to happen. Or for example as I said before, another great crucial element for organization was the supply chain and the global value chain dimension because the pandemic has different waves in different times in different hurry of the world so part of the board was it looked down at the beginning China then Europe then US so how to manage these disruption along the chain. And one of the elements that was clear in the tension between the chain was the problem of power of the agency of the actor along the chain because of course we saw that the negative externality of this tension was shifted on the less powerful actors of the chain for example or considering also the positive elements we saw that even during the pandemic there was a opportunity that are underlining one of the essay by Andrea to not also in the second paper opportunities when different cultural wars meets like for example the health wars and the economic wars. So even in these catastrophic events some opportunity can rise for entrepreneurs for organization.

– And in fact that’s part of the paradox, isn’t it? Because we’ve got a human catastrophe happening but at the same time there are opportunities occurring and people find it very difficult to match those two things up. And in lots of these situations that are these paradoxes occurring that people and it’s one of the things that we’ll come on to is kind of the psychology of paradox that this idea of where does the focus go and people find it very difficult to match up those two things so they start describing values to them but we’ll come back to that. That’s really good, thanks Simone. Camille?

– And so with regards to the paradoxes at the individual level and I mean, we haven’t perhaps said it yet but I mean paradoxes are really like this idea that you have two opposite injunction, two opposite goals, two opposite missions but these operative missions are not only opposite, they are interrelated and they persist over time. So when we think about paradox we read or we want to keep in mind this idea that we are faced with opposition that are interrelated. And if you start focusing on one forgetting the other then it will always backfires in a way. And the idea I think at the individual level for paradoxes we think it’s important to understand that this tension will never go away. It’s not a problem to solve but these are tensions that stay there because once you start seeing that the tensions that are there, you’re not trying to solve them you’re trying to go with the flow to navigate and to live with it. And so I think it makes really sense at the individual level because we are always in situation where we fight against being a parent and being like a working professional and the literature tells us for example that these are opposite, right? There is work-life conflict, the old debate about work-life conflict and we’ve had talks about it’s important then to reach a balance. So we want to have this work-life balance to find an equilibrium and paradox theory tells us that that’s really nice. We want to have a balance we want to find a balance. We want to find an equilibrium but what for example COVID 19 did is that it started to question this idea of how do we find these patterns when everything is falling apart when we have the kids on our labs in a computer and in the essays gender and Rebecca Bednarek and found that really nicely and say, well, the notion of balance is interesting but perhaps there are other notions from paradox theory that can help us navigate this work-life balance differently. Like understanding that, I mean, there can be shifts, there can be oscillation it cannot always be about integrating both. It can also be about consciously understanding that for the moment being I need to be 70% a parent and 30% a professional and that’s okay. And so in a way, I mean, they’ve helped us remove some of the pressure off by acknowledging the fact that of course we are both but there are moments where we need two shifts the way we are both because it’s okay for now and later we can do something different. So I think that this is very interesting at the individual level to start understanding that. We’ve talked about leadership at the level of the states, the governments but there are also like very important leadership questions. How do I empower and how do I at the same time give clear directions? How do I do that when I am on the screen, right? How can I empower my team when I am from far away? So these are also question like that that it can be raised. And for leaders another question that we unpacked in the essay is the question about like what is the mechanism? What can we use to communicate about paradoxes? Paradoxes are difficult, nobody wants to deal with them. We are afraid of them but so how do we communicate about it? How do we engage other in a way that they really want to do it with us instead of hiding somewhere far away? So these are some of the question we’ve asked. Another wonderful essay by Russ Vince and Vanessa Pouthier is about the emotions and they really unpack how hard and how it can be and how important it is to be able to listen to your own emotion as you navigate paradoxes. So these are all the topics we cover at the individual level which I’m sure will resonate with some of you in the audience because we’ve all been through that.

– Yes, definitely. And certainly from my aspect and sort of my areas to do with emotion regulation and how to live with and deal with the emotional kind of impact of finding yourself in a paradoxical situation but also the challenge to our values what we call affective issues but we’ll come back to those because they underpin quite a lot of the decision-making in the way that we act when we find ourselves in these difficult situations. We call them difficult situations because of the emotional impact that the challenge to our values in those situations. Can I just move on because we keep mentioning this thing called paradox theory. So can you just give me an overview of what’s the essence of paradox theory and why did you choose this perspective to look at the experience of kind of people living through the tensions involved in what is essentially a unique and historic period of time?

– Yeah, that’s a good question. So paradox theory is quite young in terms of, I mean, there’ve been people that have been researching paradoxes in the organizational literature for many years but I think as an identity where we can say, hey, this is paradox theory it’s still in a very early growth stage but we are starting to have some very fundamental principles that we all agree on and Camille touched upon this in terms of defining paradoxes. And I think that’s an important part in defining paradox is recognizing when tensions are not just simple dilemmas you choose one or the other and that you can’t live with the tension and come up with some integrated solutions but we believe that most experiences with tensions have paradoxical elements to them. And so I think part of the paradox theory is identifying paradoxes. And then once it’s about identifying paradoxes it’s also been about how do we respond to paradoxes? And so I think there there’s quite a bit of research that we’ve been engaged in on these topics and so we felt that, and now why this topic when it comes to COVID? Well, there is one aspect of paradox theory which is that we believe the paradoxes are everywhere. However, we don’t believe that everybody experiences paradox all the time. And so one of the core aspects of paradox theory is recognizing what are these events that make things salient and when they are salient, then how how does that then impact the way people respond to them? And so I don’t want to be one of these people that says, “Okay, COVID was different than everything else.” I mean, there’ve been many many different periods of time where crises have occurred and crises can occur without there being a large global crisis. But it really is in many ways somewhat of a natural experiment in the sense that it’s happening at this global scale. And one of the things that we discovered in this process about this global scale is just how at the same time it was happening to everybody but it was also happening to everybody differently. And both in terms of national level and then also in terms of people’s individual experience. So if you’re a working parent it’s very different than being somebody who doesn’t have a family but those are both very very tough issues in both cases, right? But qualitatively different. You have places like Australia where we had no cases for months and months and months and months but now we’ve gotten to a point of isolation and not knowing how to vaccinate and so things have completely changed. So then you have places like the United States where they just went through very very very huge horrific experiences but are now in a very different situation. Again, so I would say the UK as well for sure. So I think that is what makes I think this particular context really interesting is because we already knew the context mattered but this is the kind of context that we just hadn’t been able to even think about before.

– Yeah, and I think what’s the pandemic is highlighted is the speed of the change of some of the paradoxes. So you’re only just getting to grips with the tensions ’cause quite often people don’t notice they’re in a paradoxical situation. But what they do notice is they sense tension. They feel that they’re under pressure in some way or that they sense this tension but it’s the speed of shift that’s occurred with these paradoxes that I think is unique in this situation and that the fact that you’ve mentioned here is not the same for different people in different places. And even in one country you’ve got a wide variance of experience of paradoxes and also experience of trying to deal with those as well so it’s both at a macro and a micro level we’ve got the shift going on. And I think that’s an important part of this, brilliant. I don’t know whether Simone or Camille want to say anything about paradox there.

– I will just summarize what Josh said with that definition by Wendy Smith that for me was really clear to understand what paradox theory is. Paradox theory is the theory for the nature and the management of competing demands. This is a paradox theory as Joshua was saying. And why this can be really important in such a moment because what hyper state from paradox theory is the ability to have unrealistic perspective. So it’s able to give some insights on a tension experience, on the nature of the paradox and on the management of the part from the individual level to the micro level to the macro level to the organization and the system. And with the idea that we cannot just consider A or B but we need to consider A and B together. So I think this is the great power of such theory in defining what the paradox are in order also to let people understand what can be the main tension they can experience and how to manage them how to respond to them from the individual to the organization to the macro level. And of course as Camille was saying before it’s not something static. So the idea is not that we have to find an equilibrium that is just one for everybody but as he were saying there is a contingency for a space, for time and even in this period the speed of the change also require paradox scholars to question about the equilibrium and the management of these competing demands if they change very very fast so even this period and what we also try to do in the papers is not only to describe the paradox lands the pandemic detention that was right from the pandemic but even what the pandemic can say to the theory because for example the fast of the change is one of the point that lead to some question to paradox scholars to also better understand how it’s possible to experience and to answer to such a really fast changing conflict and the paradox.

– Yeah, I think the points you make here really important. This idea about paradox has been competing demands and tensions. And what the theory does is it really gets us to think about the competing tensions in the same space both at the same time but at different times different levels. But also and this is one of the things that’s important is the speed of the change but also the velocity of change if this makes sense. So it goes fast and then it slows down again and then it goes fast again. And so there isn’t even a consistent increase in speed. Suddenly chaos breaks out and then it slows down again and then chaos breaks out again and there aren’t even consistent gaps between those. They’re don’t appear to be predictable. Which brings us into kind of complexity theory because we’re starting to look for emergent things particularly as researchers.

– And just perhaps one point that is important for our listeners is the idea when we talk about how paradox is about opposition. So we can think about two tension two arrows going on opposite sides. But what paradox theory does is that it puts them in an orthogonal dimension. And so it’s not just opposition. It is really interrelation where we’re really trying to get in an ideal world and we’ll see that COVID question that at how do we optimize both one side and the other? How do we focus both on work and family? How do we engage in exploration and exploitation? And so this is really at the heart of paradox theory. So it’s not just about opposition but really the notion of interrelation and putting them on an orthogonal diagram and stopping seeing just two arrows bumping against each other or going in the opposite direction depending on how you visualize it is really important and it’s at the core of how we think about paradox because we use the word paradox in a lot of different way when we talk. And I say that to my students because when I teach it in class they say, oh, yes this is paradoxical because you are asking us to be creative but how can we be creative if you are telling us to be creative? So this is a paradox and so here I always tell them you need to take a step away from like the regular way of saying, oh, this is the paradox or this is paradox and really think about am I in front of tensions that are opposite but also interrelated. So just like to make sure it’s clear for our listeners.

– Oops, sorry go on Josh, yeah.

– Oh yeah, I would also just add that another misnomer is that we think that it’s about balance. And when we think about balance we think of it as a static balance so we just find the middle point and figure out that’s the solution and actually that’s not what we believe as paradox scholars either. We actually believe that we should be thinking about integrating and also differentiating and come and engaging in the poles. And by doing that like actually engaging in each of them and we actually have even found some pretty good empirical evidence that if we do this kind of engagement we end up with solutions that go beyond just finding that compromise middle point and instead actually finding some types of outcomes that end up being better in both areas. And I think that’s an important thing that you can’t do that unless you actually are comfortable with engaging in both of them and recognizing that you have to continuously engage with both of them.

– And this kind of underpins which is a relatively new idea that the idea of paradoxical leadership kind of underpins the nature of paradoxical leadership is dealing with those competing uncertainties both at an emotional but also intellectual level but also being able to work out the interrelationship between things and this idea of optimizing. And some of that optimization may mean stepping out of this space into a new space. So we’ve got as we would refer to it as a paradigm shift and it’s a typical thing that a good entrepreneur will do is actually, oh, hang on a minute, if we do this, these things either fall away or they’re dealt with in a different way. Sorry, Camille.

– No, no, I actually totally agree. And in one of the essay Jennifer Sparr talks about how leaders have to get to create this space. So perhaps leadership is not just about like giving a vision. And it’s also about finding the ways to create space and to work together to work through the tension to find ways to optimize perhaps to split people focusing on one side or the people focusing on another side and creating roads that connect both sides. So it’s about like working together in different spaces to fully engage what it means to embrace paradoxical dominions.

– Excellent. Yeah, can I just ask because one of the things that’s coming out of this for me is the idea of paradoxes being dipolar too. What about multiple tensions? How does that fit?

– Yeah, it’s actually a very big part of what we’re theorizing now because we do believe that they’re all embedded with each other and that’s one of the areas that it’s hard to research but it’s very interesting to research because they are interrelated and they can be interrelated in different ways. They can amplify the tension or they can mitigate the tension and it can amplify it at one point and mitigate it at another point. So in terms of how one tension in a really, we also have multiple levels that we do quite a bit of work on that. So an organization can have an issue in terms of how you organize and then to the people on the ground that can create tensions on what they’re supposed to do how are they gonna fill their job requirements? You cannot just look at one level of analysis nor should you really just isolate one tension if you wanna get a holistic story.

– So it’s kind of a 3D network of tensions.

– Yeah, even at the intra individual level in the sense that while you’re trying to wrestle with tensions you’re also trying to figure out how you’re gonna do it. Like do you trust your gut or do you need to think about it systematically. There’s tension really even in those processes even when you’re talking about emotional regulation, right? Of an area there are tensions associated with that process too even within the individual that’s embedded within the issues that they’re facing outside.

– Yes, yeah, I hadn’t also the internals, these masses of those at a psychological level but I won’t get into those.

– Yeah.

– One of the things that you talk about in the studies is this idea of a paradox mindset. So what do you actually mean by this and what impact does it have on kind of navigating difficult times like the situations many of us have found ourselves in during the COVID pandemic?

– One of the co-authors of the concept maybe I’ll let Camille talk about it first.

– No, Josh on paradox mindset you’re the one.

– I’m one of the ones. No, I mean, paradox mindset is just really trying to capture what people had talked about in paradox theory before. But I think because of the fact that we actually had some operationalization, it gave us some conceptual clarity I think in terms of what does that mean for an individual. And I think what it really means is embracing tensions and being comfortable with them. And I think that a paradox mindset really is very important because it can mean the difference between whether when you’re experiencing these tensions do you find virtuous cycles of engagement or vicious cycles of just feeling too anxious and not being able to manage. And again, I think as we talked about earlier I think the big key component about this notion of embracing tensions in order to be okay with the idea that paradoxes aren’t going to resolve themselves because the tensions will always be there. It helps to embrace that process of engaging with them. And that’s what a paradox mindset is.

– Just one thing clear, so this is opposed to that kind of natural tendency or proclivity that many people have is to avoid difficult situations that set off a whole series of negative emotions.

– Absolutely.

– Sitting in that space and examining them and noting them rather than running away from them kind of .

– And actually being proactively engaged in them. So it’s not just being comfortable but actually being energized by them engaged with them proactively wanting like sort of embracing the nature of the tension. You want to say something Camille?

– Yes, Camille.

– Yeah, perhaps I can add one thing that our listeners might be interested in there is actually a way for you to measure how your paradox mindset is or whether you have a paradox mindset or not. If you go on web research and time, I’m not sure if I can say any names but you can type paradox mindsets measure or let me wait. Paradox mindset measure and you’ll land on a website from the University of Delaware where Josh and only scores that are actually created a tool for you to test your mindset and to see where you stand in a way. So if you’re interested you should try it.

– I’ll put the link in the show notes for people. That’s great, thanks Camille. That’s really useful I didn’t know about that. Great. Okay, so an interesting aspect that you show is the difference between the Eastern and Western perspectives in the management of the pandemic. Can you please explain this role of cultural difference in paradoxes as fascinating?

– So I’ve done a little bit of work. I did some work on this before as well as others and I was very happy that I got to work with Xin Li in writing an essay on this topic in this issue because he’s a very brilliant scholar and knows about Eastern philosophy in a great depth. But I’ll just say just before the pandemic happened I mean, one thing that’s very different about this community is that Eastern philosophy had been a core tenet of paradox theory for years, right? I mean, the whole idea that the figure seems to be the best figure in terms of looking at a mental representation of what a lot of the theory is about that has its Eastern roots. And some of us have studied this and have found that sure enough managers, employees, everybody in East Asian societies do tend to embrace paradoxes more although not necessarily the proactive engagement art but the tolerance and the acceptance and recognition of tension is definitely really well-rooted in Eastern philosophy and it has carried through. Now again, like as in any study on culture individuals are far more different from each other than big group differences and once you talk about billions of people then it can get very silly. But I think the overall point is that clearly those people who’ve been exposed to certain cultural traditions are certainly more likely to carry that. But with this COVID pandemic it actually started getting us thinking differently about this because here we are where we thought about East Asians as being all about balance and they should be the one that says, oh we should be out there saying let’s balance public health and economy because we should look at these as being two aspects of a whole and come up with that and no, it’s the opposite. And who were the ones talking about balance Sweden, America for a little while the UK. Later on a lot of European countries, right? And in East Asia it was always, no, we shut this down. We do everything. We have to shut this down very quickly and do it as much as possible. And I think what it basically, what we came to sort of think about is isn’t explaining why it is about thinking about balance and a much longer timeframe, right? That it’s not about figuring out what you balance today, right? It’s about how do you think about the dynamic balance over a very long period of time. And sometimes what that means is a lot of economic pain right now to get our society to a healthier state in the future. And that may be something that Westerners may have struggled with. However, I do feel that this is gonna be the interesting question going forward is what have we learned from the pandemic, right? Because again, that’s how culture is developed, right? Cultures develop from experience. And so to what extent are we going to see a cultural shift in the West? Because some people will say what happened to the culture of the Indians nation was their experience was ours. They had this experience in 2003 and that helped sort of figure out how they should react, right? So some of these principles may actually be there in the web.

– Yeah, that requires learning. But I’m not gonna go into that.

– I think if we were optimistic about that if there is learning then that maybe that.

– Yes, exactly. And I take your point. I think it’s really important one about actually striking for balance in the short-term can actually end up in disastrous results and certainly at a political level and a nation level. The countries that didn’t go for the balance say New Zealand for example went health first economy second whereas the countries that tried to balance the two they damaged both. So there is an issue here about the balance can actually harm the whole ecosystem. That’s really interesting. Okay, so one of the issues to do with paradoxes from a psychological point of view which is kind of my background anyway is that many of us really aren’t very good at firstly noticing paradoxes but also kind of holding and coping with paradoxes. In fact, quite a number of previous studies have shown that we first tend to not realize or see a paradox. And second, when we’re in a paradoxical situation quite often we flick between the different polarities servicing or paying attention to different often contradictory aspects of a paradoxical situation often without realizing that’s what we’re doing. Was this a feature within the studies and if so what impact do you think this has for organizations, supply chains and things like that?

– Maybe I can start and then Josh and Camille can add more but I think this is a really important point because the prominent about not wholly seeing the paradox but then when you see it to embrace the paradox navigate it or decide to move away is a crucial point. And this also go back to what we were saying about the paradox mindset. Because first, you have to recognize tensions paradox but these is not necessary. It’s not something that you necessarily end up because maybe there are some condition that lead you to frame the tensions trade off as generally we do so decide to go for a AOB because you cannot do both at the same time or because doing both at the same time it’s psychologically or even emotionally really maybe huge to support. So I think that in order to better understand how to deal and how to address a tension in paradox two elements are crucial and they are in the essay of the three paper. The first one is the contingency regarding the power condition. That’s so maybe you’ll recognize a paradox. You recognize that tension is a paradox and you maybe are willing to address it as paradox navigated but you are not in the power condition to address the paradox as you want. And this is a clear example in the supply chain because in the global value chain and the supply chain, maybe the lead films that has the power I see it to be my sustainability study for example. The lead films decide the condition and the suppliers maybe see the paradox see the tension and they would like to address them in a paradoxical way but they cannot because the rules are set by the lead films. So this I think it is a first crucial element. The second one is the emotion because as you were saying from a psychological point of view but I think that emotion are crucial in the ability to deal with paradox because paradox mindset as we described before seems something really irrational. So you see the paradox and you act in a paradoxical way. But you have to consider even the emotional side and there is something in the paradoxical study about these and even in the essay in the first paper but it’s a crucial condition that we have to consider how emotion can help or not in addressing paradox and go from a trade-off to a paradox perspective. I don’t know if Camille, Josh want to add something.

– Oh, yeah.

– And I want to say COVID has made that even more salient. I mean, we know organization are places where we value rationality. I don’t want to be too extreme but let’s put it this way. We tend to value leaders who have masculine attributes. Are calm, are poised. And paradox theory does the same like the paradox mind. It’s great it’s helpful but we tell people they need to cool off to be able to handle the tension.

– Yeah.

– We focus on equanimity on the mind and everything that is about emotion is something seen as negative, right? You get anxious, defensive. You’re not able to deal with paradox if you get too emotional. And I think that perhaps what COVID does is that it pushes the boundary of that of this very rational assumption on organizing and on what paradox theory does by saying, hey, wait a minute. Perhaps there is something to consider within like the role of this emotion what do this emotion tell us? How can we work with them as a means to engage paradoxical more? And I see that a lot of different levels throughout the essays and more generally and I think that’s my own research and bias so David I’m sure a lot of things to talk about offline but we can see that by thinking, okay, those leaders perhaps the woman leaders, right? We’ve seen that women leaders have been perhaps those who have managed to work through the tension differently throughout the COVID crisis like why is it that those who have different leadership attributes have managed? And there are studies that show that perhaps leadership is not about masculinity but androgenity like being able to have masculine and feminine attributes as you help others. We can also see emotions like what do we do as an organization? What are the norms that we foster in our organization that help or hamper others to deal with a tension they are dealing with? Like are we an organization that’s suppress the emotion or are we an organization actually that is willing to engage and to open this space? We talked about leaders as being able to open spaces to work through tension but what’s the emotional nature of this space. Like do we let the door open to emotions as well? So I think this brings some important question. And then we have another section in the article that I wrote with Rikke Nielsen and Joe Cheal and I’m not sure if we want to talk about now if you want me to wait but it’s about like the role of leaders in communicating the paradoxes to others. So in a way we know the paradoxical mindset is great and those listeners who have taken the test perhaps score very high. So you see the paradox it’s easy for you to navigate. You’re like, well, that’s not a big deal. Of course work and life are interrelated. That’s perhaps not a big deal for you but how is it for the people you work with? How is it for the people you live with? How can you tell them, show them, help them navigate the tension, right? And that’s where it’s important to think about like, how do I make my message? That is a message people don’t want to hear resonant. And so in the essay with Rikke and Joe Cheal, we use Rikke’s work who is from Denmark and use a lot of example from Denmark to show how you can work through communicating to other by making it resonant both cognitively. So using messages that are familiar I think we can use the example of the the motto from the Danish government which is about standing together. And so during the pandemic they shifted this idea of standing together by using standing together apart to show how important it was to be most close and apart through the pandemic. And by using a very familiar sentence it was helping the Danish people to get the message of like working through this paradox. But the thing is it could to get at people cognitively but we know that if we really want to touch them there is also something you need to touch them in their guts. You need to touch them.

– Yeah.

– They need to feel it. And that’s where we emotional resonance is seen. Like how can you as a leader help people feel the paradox in an emotional way. And so there are ways to create emotional resonance to appeal to people’s feeling and emotions as you talk through. One of the example is this idea of CEO virtual fireplace. Even to convey this being together apart. We’ve seen CEO on virtual address next to a fireplace. The fireplace is cozy, it makes us feel together but we were on Zoom watching them next to the fireplace. Like many countries and Denmark was one example of creating like morning rituals where everybody sings together. We’ve seen in Israel and France and in many country everybody clapped together to praise the first line workers and the second line workers throughout the crisis. And this is part also of like creating an emotional resonance towards an idea of being together and apart at the same time.

– No, I was just gonna say we’ll come back to the role leadership in a minute. The points, I’ll come to it in a second Josh. I think the points you’re making are important. I particularly like this idea of the paradox between masculine and feminine sides of operating and that’s become stark. And there’s been quite a few really useful studies coming out on that. And what I’ll do because there was a really interesting video that the Danish, in fact I think it was a news outlet put out originally about the studying together apart thing that went around Denmark and then went around the world and I’ll put a link to that video as well. Sorry, Josh.

– Oh, I was just going to say one quick comment about the question you raised about awareness. I mean, this is one area where unfortunately we in the paradox community know that awareness is a major part of the story that there are people that just do not see the tension or they may see tensions they only see poles and don’t see the interrelatedness. It’s a tough thing to do with purely and at any level of analysis. And so that’s part of what we’re struggling is struggling in terms of our awareness and what really are those mechanisms. So we’re working on it and we’re trying but yeah, it’s a core part of the theory but it’s something that it’s still uncharted territory because it’s hard to decipher whether it’s because of how I think, because of how I feel ’cause our bodies react before our brains do when it comes to a lot of things happening so it could be that too. A lot of things could be going on or just the situation that we’re in or the the context that we’re in that’s driving these things.

– Yeah, that’s interesting. That’s really interesting. So one of the things that I’ve got interested recently in is the whole idea of peripheral awareness and firstly how that happens, how we ended up with a peripheral awareness when we’re not aware of something but we just start to become aware of it. It’s kind of that you can’t touch it, you can’t feel it. You’re kind of there’s something there but I don’t know what it is and how that then progresses into some kind of a core awareness. But anyway we can talk about that some other time. I think we’ve got about 30 podcasts coming out of this. Brilliant. One stage, you focused on the tension that have become apparent within the global supply chains and the power dynamics involved and this includes what you’ve term the dark side of paradox. So firstly, what are we talking about in terms of the dark side of paradoxes?

– Do you want go Simone?

– I can start. I think it’s what I was saying before. So paradox are not wholly moment of opportunities and creativity in which you can feel comfortable in dealing with opposite pole and find a creative solution but even moment in which you have some negative element that came out. And in the literature and even we have this section in our paper there is the problem of the dark side. So what has been called the dark side are mainly the power condition that are related to the possibility to respond to a paradox. Because even a classical example that maybe also Camille was mentioning before when your boss say to you, “You need to be creative.” And of course, this is something that is difficult to address if someone imposed you or maybe you feel as I was saying before in the global value chain but even on the individual level you feel the tension, you feel the paradox is salient. So it’s clear to you but you are not in the condition to respond in a paradoxical way to the tension. And in the pandemic I think one of the clear example that I even mentioned before is in the global value chain because in the essay I even cited example in which the workforce in the developing country were obliged to remain in the factories to have a safe condition. And of course you see that in that case the tension between that and the economy cannot be solved by the individual or even you have this great power condition that came from other companies that are upstream in the chain that forced you to do something that you may be can even deal in another way. So the dark side are a crucial element in which the paradox theory is beginning to starting. So it’s a recent stream that is emerging but it’s a crucial part to understand regarding which are the power condition that allow you to respond and how you can even break these condition if there is the opportunities and overcome the limits that you have in responding to such a tension.

– I think this is important this whole idea that power quite often constricts or enables our ability to be able to act. For example, you may have this idea about we shouldn’t be doing these things but I’m not the prime minister I’m not the president or I’m not the CEO and I don’t actually have the power to act but more importantly I don’t actually have the capability or the access to resources to be able to do these things.

– Even yeah, of course.

– And you can see this is supply chains and things. Sorry, Camille.

– Yeah, no, and to unpack it a bit Simone’s example. He mentioned DSC by Medhanie Gaim and Miguel Cunha where they explained that there were Chinese businesses in Zambia that by trying to keep the business working but at the same time trying to protect the employee they forced them to stay within the factory. It was like protecting they call it protecting by enslaving. And so there is the notion of power dimension but we can think in our own countries I remember in France we had people voluntarily staying within nursing home during the first lockdown to keep the nursing home working and to protect the people within the nursing home but they would willingly stay there and not see their family. So here is when the question of empowerment kicks in. Like we see what it means when people voluntarily take part of the effort or where people are enslaved and forced to do business and being protected at the same time.

– Yeah. Yeah, I was gonna add that one question though is to what extent is the power and power dynamic constructed and the extent to which some of these things are constructed is also part of what we talk about ’cause clearly in the case of the United States there are people that were constructing a power dynamic that wasn’t real. And that also can be a risk as well.

– Yeah, and some of this is out of the desire to control both the situation they decided to control others within that situation.

– Exactly, yeah.

– And paradoxically, interestingly, you’ve got the other side of that of learned helplessness of people who seed imaginary control to other people even though they’ve got control at that moment in time when they could actually do something but they don’t do it because actually it’s easier just to be dependent at that moment in time. They’re interesting kind of, anyway, as I said we could be here for a very long time. I’ve just got to move on. Sorry, Josh.

– What’s the timeframe for this ’cause I think I have to leave soon.

– Yeah, okay. We’ll skip a load of this and then maybe come back some other time to this.

– When we stopped I think we’ve answered some of the questions.

– I think so, yeah.

– From the discussion.

– Let’s just move down then to, right. Okay, let’s jump to the end here. So if you were to boil down all of this the research into two or three kind of practical takeaways for people, what would they be?

– I think that this, what we saw during this pandemic period and what we try to understand through a paradox lens in these four paper can give different insight even in political insight for a practical insight for people at the different level. But I think from my even because it’s something that I work on and that really care on is regardless of sustainability issue and the complexity that it’s not only sustainability but we show that it’s in a lot of insight is hindering this pandemic. The collaboration dimension is crucial. I mean, when we say the paradox perspective has the ability to look holistically at the problems means that you can have a system. You can look at the different poles, you can consider the different elements but you can not do it alone. So such complexity it’s all a paradox lands require you to create collaboration in order to respond to such paradox. I mean, example on sustainability there are a lot but even in other tension you need to take this challenge from a perspective that is able to consider all the element but even to consider all the people and all the organization that are involved in this element if it’s not possible to try to address this challenge. So I think that creating this space of collaboration is crucial to try to give a useful and effective answer to these problem.

– Yes, so a wider collaboration but also collaboration in working out what is going on I think it’s part of that. Thanks Simone. Okay, Camille?

– Yeah, the second point is perhaps the idea that we often see student coming to business school with wanting one solution. Like, what is the solution? How do I manage my team? How do I solve my virtual team issue with COVID? And I think that what paradox theory and what the COVID situation has taught us that there is not one way and we need to get this out of our minds. There is like the need to learn to be agile, to learn to juggle across a whole array of solution that over time will bring a balance. And so I think that this is perhaps one key element about like we need to accept that sometimes we will focus on one dimension of the paradox, we’ll focus on another one. We need to know that we need to strive to optimize and to do both if we can but also we need to accept that sometimes we might not do that for a moment being and we need to accept that sometimes we might do a little bit of compromise. And I think that this juggling act is very important. Being able to be aware of it, being able to tell our team that we are in a way working through a juggling act so that the team also takes this agility perspective so the collaboration dimension is important. The communication with the team dimension is important to understand this juggling act.

– Brilliant, thank you very much. That’s great Camille. Josh?

– Oh, but I think that actually illustrates one good key practical takeaway from the overall experience is that I do hope that those elements looking at the opportunities aspect of the pandemic experience does actually end up resonating with people and that as much as we love to get back to a normal life we should be very grateful some of the things that may have actually happened in terms of for example how the technology has connected us in different ways that we hope that we can leverage that and in ways that probably would not have done if it wasn’t for this event pushing us in this direction. So I think that may be the next tension that we’re going to experience as we get back into a normal life.

– Yeah, I think that’s important because within paradoxes there’s a paradox and there’s the dark side as well as the opportunities that exist within all of those as well, that’s brilliant. Thank you so much for your time and for this collection of papers. And I’ve found them absolutely enlightening and really helpful in unraveling and understanding what’s going on for both society, organizations and people right now. And we often get stuck in our own kind of lived experience at times like these. And this collection of studies has been really useful for breaking out of those assumptions and to work out what’s going on for other people but also what’s going on at a kind of wider perspective. So what next for the three of you and then we’ll finish. So very quickly we’ll just go round. Simone what next for you?

– For me next is I’m working on the paradox in sustainability from global value chain systemic perspective because as I was saying before the complexity is the main challenge. So I want to unpack and dig in the complexity of sustainability tension and how to manage them.

– Brilliant, thank you Simone. Camille?

– So for me it’s going to be I’m fascinated by the role of emotions in engaging paradoxes and so I’m currently working on a project that aims at understanding how emotion change the way we see and engage paradoxes like to really impact like the emotions behind paradox condiments.

– Fantastic, I love that. Josh?

– Yeah, so it’s interesting because I started off being very much focused on cognition and very micro level understandings of paradox and a lot of what I’m now very much more intrigued with is the very macro context and how that’s shaping the paradoxical experience. And I think that COVID pandemic helped us sort of trigger that interest but there’s a lot going on. And so that’s become more and more of my focus is looking at how individuals embedded within these complex global environments. Immigrants, organizations that are tied to international organizations but I’ll have to be local. So it’s opened up a lot of different avenues to be looking at that level.

– Yes, I think so. And one of the things that I’ve kind of on the periphery got interested in is the whole thing about climate change and what’s happening.

– Exactly.

– I get this feeling that we could actually do a series of podcasts on all the things you’ve made.

– Absolutely.

– Thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it. And I’ll be in touch after this anyways so and I know Josh is about to go.

– Yeah, thank you for having us.

– Thank you for the invitation.

– Thank you.

– It’s been an absolute pleasure. Take care and we’ll be in touch soon.



A Paradox Approach to Societal Tensions during the Pandemic Crisis

  • by Sharma, G.; Bartunek, J.; Buzzanell, P.; Carmine, S.; Endres, C.; Etter, M.; Fairhurst, G.; Hahn, T.; Lê, P.; Li, X.; Pamphile, V.; Pradies, C.; Putnam, L.; Rocheville, K.; Schad, J.; Sheep, M., Keller, J. 2021. Accepted at Journal of Management Inquiry.

A Paradox Approach to Organizational Tensions During the Pandemic Crisis.

  • by Carmine, S. Andriopoulos, C., Gotsi, M.; Härtel, C.; Krzeminska, A., Mafico, N.; Pradies, C.; Raza, H.; Raza-Ullah, T.; Schrage, S.; Sharma, G.; Slawinski, N.; Stadler, L.; Tunarosa, A.; Winther-Hansen, C.; Keller, J. Accepted at Journal of Management Inquiry.

The Lived Experience of Paradox: How Individuals Navigate Tensions during the Pandemic Crisis.

  • Pradies, C.; Aust, I., Bednarek, R.; Brandl, J. Carmine, S. Cheal, J. ; Pina e Cunha, M. ; Gaim, M. ; Keegan, A.; Lê, J.K.; Miron-Spektor, E., Nielsen, R. K.; Pouthier, V.; Sharma, G.; Sparr, J.; Vince, R.; Keller, J. 2021. Accepted at Journal of Management Inquiry

Our Collective Tensions: Paradox Research Community’s Response to Covid-19. Accepted at Journal of Management Inquiry.

  • Keller, J.; Carmine, S.; Jarzabkowski, P. ; Lewis, M. ; Pradies, C. ; Sharma, G. Smith, W; Vince, R. 2021.

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David Wilkinson

David Wilkinson is the Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford Review. He is also acknowledged to be one of the world's leading experts in dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty and developing emotional resilience. David teaches and conducts research at a number of universities including the University of Oxford, Medical Sciences Division, Cardiff University, Oxford Brookes University School of Business and many more. He has worked with many organisations as a consultant and executive coach including Schroders, where he coaches and runs their leadership and management programmes, Royal Mail, Aimia, Hyundai, The RAF, The Pentagon, the governments of the UK, US, Saudi, Oman and the Yemen for example. In 2010 he developed the world's first and only model and programme for developing emotional resilience across entire populations and organisations which has since become known as the Fear to Flow model which is the subject of his next book. In 2012 he drove a 1973 VW across six countries in Southern Africa whilst collecting money for charity and conducting on the ground charity work including developing emotional literature in children and orphans in Africa and a number of other activities. He is the author of The Ambiguity Advanatage: What great leaders are great at, published by Palgrave Macmillian. See more: About: About David Wikipedia: David's Wikipedia Page